Captain America Christian Pulisic had a hat-trick as the US Men’s National Team steamrolled Panama 5-1 in Orlando on Sunday night. The fourteenth and last final match of this World Cup qualifying cycle is now available, on Wednesday night in San José, Costa Rica.
It’s set up like this: The US can secure a place at Qatar 2022 with a win, draw or loss by less than six goals.
Say it again: Unless the Americans lose 6-0 or 7-1 or 8-2 or 9-3, something like that, they go to Qatar.
And in the event that the impossible happens and they lose by six goals, they will have a play-in match against the winner of Oceania (probably New Zealand).
That the US still hasn’t booked its flight in November bothers those who see the ghosts of Couva still hovering, shrieking.
During the last cycle, the US? did not beat Panama 4-0 in Orlando? Didn’t that “virtually assure” the Americans of an offer before they started against lowly Trinidad and Tobago on the final day?
Didn’t everything collapse under a tidal wave in the middle of a perfect storm?
All of these things are true.
On October 10, 2017, the US lost to Trinidad and Tobago for the first time since 2008 and for the third time in history. Honduras and Panama recorded improbable victories over the two best teams in the group, Mexico and Costa Rica. And that was it.
The United States slipped to fifth place and their streak of seven consecutive World Cup berths spanning 24 years caught fire in a dumpster.
This time, there is no comparison. For one thing, the United States is already guaranteed fourth place. As minimum.
On the other hand, if you’re a very uptight national team fan and you believe in your heart that Gregg Berhalter’s team is going to lose 6-0 or 7-1 or 8-2 or 9-3 or something like that, on Wednesday the night in Costa Rica, please hug someone. Take a few deep, cleansing breaths. Now easy.
The Society for the History of American Soccer (SASH) chronicles the history of national teams going back to 1885. It tells us that a six-goal loss is extremely rare, even considering that there were a time when our country viewed soccer as some kind of fifth-column threat and tried to starve the game.
The last time the USMNT lost by a six-goal margin in a non-friendly match was on August 21, 1975, when Argentina (with Osvaldo Ardiles and Mario Kempes) covered a 6-0 loss over the Americans in the Mexico City Tournament. If you need an analogy, think of The Great Red Machine playing with the Argentine baseball team in 1975.
The Americans have had more convincing losses in the games that counted: 11-2 to Argentina at the 1928 Olympics, 7-1 to Italy in the first round of the 1934 World Cup, 9-0 to Italy at the Olympics. 1948 Olympics, 6-0 to Mexico in a 1949 World Cup qualifier, 6-0 again to Mexico in a 1957 World Cup qualifier.
The Americans have been reduced to dust in games that didn’t count, notably 8-1 and 10-0 friendly defeats against England in 1959 and 1964. It’s clear the British took their 1-0 loss very seriously. against the USA in the first round of the 1950 World Cup and raged for decades.
The point is that the US doesn’t lose games by six goals very often in official competitions; it has happened seven times in 135 years, and the last time it happened was 47 years ago.
Let’s put it this way: If the US had an 85-93% chance of getting their ticket to Russia 2018 when they started in Couva on the last day of the last cycle, their chance of getting a ticket to Qatar 2022 is something close to 99.9. % as they prepare for the start in San José Wednesday night.
Really, no one should have to explain this to anyone. However, there are so many fans who wanted Berhalter fired at different points over the last seven months, that it becomes necessary.
Since Berhalter took office in early 2019, the US has posted a 34-8-8 record. He gladly welcomed a “golden generation” and dedicated himself to expanding the experience of his young protégés. Last year, the Americans won the Gold Cup and the Nations League with basically two different groups of players.
They are 3-0-1 in their last four meetings with archrival Mexico.
During this World Cup qualifying cycle, Berhalter has fielded two of the youngest teams in USMNT history. Sunday’s was not one of them, and the average age of the starters was 24.6 years.
Heading into Week 14, the Americans are 6-0-1 at home and 1-2-3 away with a plus-13 goal difference. Due to injuries, suspensions and COVID, they still have to play Tyler Adams, Sergino Dest, Weston McKennie and Giovanni Reyna and Pulisic all together at the same time.
Their two away losses were 1-0 in Panama in October and 2-0 in Canada in January.
And if you think they’re going to lose 6-0 or 7-1 or 8-2 or 9-3, or something like that, well, we’ll see what Captain America has to say about that Wednesday night.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: It has been 47 years since the US lost a real soccer game by six goals.